Owing more than you own

August 17, 2009 5:04:07 PM PDT
It's called negative equity when a homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth. It happens when you buy a home in a hot selling area that suddenly cools off. A new survey shows that's the reality for more than 26 percent of mortgages in our area. Lawrence Jackson's home improvement project may make life easier for his disabled son, but it will not do much to fix his upside down mortgage.

"My mortgage is about 95, they have it on the tax rolls for 130, but I couldn't get 65 for it," he said.

Jackson has lived in the home for 10 years and saw home prices skyrocket, only to come crashing back to earth. Now homes are abandoned and in foreclosure and Jackson is not sure what the future holds for his home.

"Right now you can't get any money to refinance," Jackson said. "They keep talking about it's a lot of money out there for homeowners to redo, and I haven't been able to find any of that."

According to First American Corelogic, 32 percent of mortgages are upside down across the country. In our area, 26 percent of mortgages are on properties that are worth less than what is owed. Mortgage experts say it's a tough situation that can be difficult to get out of, but not impossible.

Steve Kaufman with Zeus Mortgage advised, "Contact your lender and ask for a modification. Of course, it is a very laborious and very time intense process, because they don't want to offer it to anyone."

Kaufman says the key to getting an upside down mortgage modified is a good payment history, so keep paying while trying to push your mortgage company to either forgive some of the debt or lower the interest. Another option is to sell the home, if your mortgage company will agree to lower payoff delivered in a lump sum.

"That is really a short sale," Kaufman said. "The bank is going to allow you to sell your home and they are willing to accept less in the payoff than you owe."

If you are upside down, try the modification or work out department of your mortgage company. It will take time and persistence to get the bank to agree to take less money. We're talking several phone calls and you'll probably be told no more than once, but if you're upside down it's worth it to keep trying.

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